So You Have Blue Hair

by Elinor Crosby, Head Editor, INALJ Nova Scotia
previously published 6/10/13

So You Have Blue Hair

elinor crosbyOr maybe you have fully tattooed arms, or a labret or septum piercing or stretched ears. Can you still get a job looking the way that you prefer to look? I feel that the answer is a resounding yes. Is your alternative style going to be more acceptable at an urban public library than a rural one? Also likely yes. This is for all my fellow “alternative looking” librarians out there who are on the job hunt.

In my entire adult life, I have only been unemployed for 10 months. When you consider that that has been nearly 22 years of adulthood, it’s actually not a lot of time to be jobless, though it did seem it when I was going through it. My rise to my current level of education and skill has been a difficult road, but I’m happy to say that throughout my journey I have been true to my personality. The librarian who convinced me to go and do my MLIS insisted that librarians didn’t care what you looked like as long as you could do the job, and I have found this to be true.

What this means is that when I go to a job interview, I dress appropriately for the position, but leave my blue hair and piercings be. If I know a certain workplace’s dress code is more restrictive, I will ask questions about it at the end of the interview and indicate that I am aware of the workplace culture and the patrons they serve. At this time I also reinforce that I will comply with the stated dress code to the best of my ability, and that I’m willing and able to change a few things about my appearance in order to fit in. However, I also take this opportunity to explain that this is how I’ve looked for twenty years, and that it’s definitely how I’m most comfortable. I have been told that this approach is very refreshing, and that the people who have hired me appreciate my candor.

Upside? I have been employed steadily for the last 18 years in a province that is economically depressed. I have occasionally been underemployed or over employed, but that’s due to have several part-time jobs. Downside? I have probably lost out on some jobs because of the way that I look. My rationalization? I probably don’t want to work for an employer that can’t see past outward appearances to see the stellar employee that is sitting in front of them. This is how I screen where I actually want to work.

I’m currently in a part-time position at an urban public library, and I love it! I walked in to my interview wearing slacks, a button-down shirt, a blazer, and my bright metallic pink Doc Martens. My outfit showed that I was taking this interview seriously, but I allowed my personality to shine through with my accessories. I find when I am comfortable with what I am wearing I am more comfortable in my interview, which can only be a good thing for everyone involved.

Being an adult means that sometimes you have to make compromises if you want a certain job, but being an adult also means being comfortable enough in your own skin to show up to an interview looking the way you prefer to look. The willingness to compromise is often a better indication of your temperament than attempting to look normal for an interview, and feeling completely uncomfortable.

  27 comments for “So You Have Blue Hair

  1. Marian Mays
    April 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm


    First of all, I would like to say that this was an awesome article! Would you recommend taking out your piercings before the job interview and then asking the interviewee if one or two facial piercings are acceptable? I have two modest nose rings. Second of all, is this even an appropriate question to ask? I’ve always been confused about this.

  2. March 24, 2014 at 10:42 am

    I have a long very curly hair that because of the texture as an African American woman, will be what folks call an afro. I have been moderately concerned by my prospects outside of the large urban center where I currently live, since there is a possibility I may move. I have no intention of straightening it or getting a wig, etc. so this is a concern in the back of my mind, since I know people in certain places will take issue with it. My nose is also pierced; looking “ethnic” can often be an issue. It would be interesting to read/hear perspectives on this in the library world.

    • March 24, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Join us tonight on Twitter! #inaljchat 9-10:30pm EDT because we are talking about this subject! Appearance beyond and including cis gendered white women in libraries.

      • March 24, 2014 at 7:47 pm

        Glad I checked. I’ve just set up a search to follow (& participate) while I work.

  3. Laura Blake
    August 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Being a woman over 50, this article caught my eye. My association for blue hair is something altogether different. Are tatoos and piercings and blue hair more acceptable than just blue hair? I have been out of the full time job market for 15 years, and have been thinking of dying my hair to fit in. Will prospective employers will be as accepting of my blue hair and wrinkles as they are of your blue hair and tats? Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. June 13, 2013 at 11:00 am

    I’m curious how this might extend to obvious signs of religious affiliation. As a married Orthodox Jewish women, I cover my hair in public. I have the choice of wearing either a wig or a scarf or hat of some sort. Most professionals I know prefer to wear a wig, to make it less obvious that they’re different, because they think it looks more office-appropriate – or because they fear discrimination or antisemitic attitude. But personally, I’d prefer to wear a scarf! I know Muslim women (and others who cover hair for religious reasons) have the same concerns. Do any of you have experience with employing someone who was visibly religious? Would an employer who doesn’t mind piercings still hesitate to accommodate religious headgear?

  5. Caity Bechtel
    June 12, 2013 at 2:05 am

    I’m so relieved that someone has addressed this! Even when my hair isn’t purple (it was for a few months, then I got over it) I still have worried that somebody would think I looked too freaky, or in some instances, too young (even though I’m ellllllderly, at this point (42), the last few jobs I applied for, I got, and most recent one, 10 yrs ago, my hair could best be described as fuchsia, and the head librarian was 2 months away from retiring. I think she thought I was frivolous & immature though I didn’t act that way, AND I had really good references. THAT is the key! When she called to tell me that I’d gotten the job, she said, “Well, you certainly have a lot of experience, and your references were excellent… It looks like I have to offer you the job..” and I thought I could hear her nose wrinkling as she said this. I was really enthusiastic though, and no one could deny that I was born to work in a library… Really the only job I’ve had since high school. I like the idea of a candid approach too, I was persistent, as in, “Give me a chance & I’ll show you!” Good blog post, it’s been forever since I’ve been on the market, kind of nervous that the rules have changed, and what if I can’t wear my vintage dresses to work? Some are kinda gaudy, too. I can tone down for an interview but if they think I’m too weird, anyway, what color my hair is probably isn’t even a factor, anyway! I’m getting ready to jump back in soon, hope if I don’t over think it, I could be as lucky as I’ve been in the past- thank you for addressing this issue!

    • Canada INALJ
      June 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      You’re welcome! It’s an issue I’ve always felt strongly about. I have been weird-looking my entire adult life, and I feel that by being in a public service position I actually help to draw in people who may not usually use many library services, or who may find it intimidating to talk to someone who doesn’t look like they do. My current library really enjoys the way I look, so I hope you find a place that accepts you as you are! I really recommend the blog ‘Hiring Librarians’ to get a good sense of what kinds of looks are suitable for different library interviews. –Elinor

  6. Mary Spiro
    June 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    WTG Elinor! It is great you can work for people who judge you on you and what you know and what you can do!! I don’t have blue hair or tattoos or piercings, other than pierced ears. I don’t have a job either 🙁

  7. Pingback: “So You Have Blue Hair”: On looks and working in a library | AzLA College and University Libraries Division Blog
  8. June 11, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    Love this! Thanks, Elinor!

  9. Angela Reynolds
    June 11, 2013 at 6:52 am

    I’ve had a few jobs in small, rural areas– and I do have visible tattoos– though I have chosen to place my tattoos where they can be hidden– (legs and back) — So in an interview situation, no-one ever knows I have them (I usually wear nice slacks or knee socks to an interview). Once I’ve gotten the job, and showed them that I am awesome, the tats are no longer hidden. This was in the US — so I’ve really had to look at the community to determine the acceptance level for Alternative Looks… I agree with Elinor that MOST libraries don’t mind how you look if you can do the job– but in some small areas (rural Georgia for instance — the dress code was pretty archaic let alone tattoos! ) — best to get a feel for the area…..

  10. June 10, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    One of those urban public libraries where blue hair is more acceptable is hiring now at all levels, so get your application in! DC Public Libraries.

  11. Sara Kelso
    June 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    As a tattooed, pierced girl, I worry about these same issues. Then again, I live in Portland, where everyone looks this way. With so many lis grads having to look out of state and into small town America to get library jobs, I wonder how well this advice can carry over…anyone have experience with that?

    • Canada INALJ
      June 10, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      I had an interview last summer to be the manager of a rural library branch, and the only reason I didn’t get it is because I didn’t have any public library experience. And by any, I mean none. Halifax is a lot like Portland, though–lots of tattooed and pierced people.

  12. Sarah S.
    June 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    When I was interviewing for my current job, I didn’t realize that one of my tattoos was sticking out of my sleeve. One of the hiring librarians (a stereotypical-seeming middle aged lady librarian) commented that she thought it was great that there’s a bunch of bright new librarians “with tattoos and piercings and stuff” like me. Totally unexpected, but sweet. I should say, too, that I do work in a large, urban public library. Not sure if that made a difference in my case…

  13. Kara
    June 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    I really wish I had the self-confidence to do the same. I’m working on it though. I’ve found, in the past, that those jobs that I have gotten by toning down the way I wanted to look, usually turned out to be places where I was unhappy. I think you’ve got the right attitude!

    • Canada INALJ
      June 10, 2013 at 7:46 pm

      Hey Kara, I have found the exact same thing! The one place where I had to dye my hair a more normal colour and take out my facial piercings for my shift was a completely miserable place to work. Keep at it! –Elinor

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